In a year of Instagramming dangerously, 52 artists respond to critical issues across the broader Asia region.
The mainstream media keeps us in a constant state of emergency where the word ‘crisis’ is used daily and ‘breaking news’ is a permanent banner across our screens. The real emergencies we should be facing are often disguised behind biased rhetoric or consciously omitted altogether: Climate change! Severe economic inequality! Decay of democracy! Brexit! Trump! The alt-right!
52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS sets out to address the real and daunting trials of everyday life across contemporary Asia. Each of the 52 artists includes a statement about their work, which often reads as a compelling, heartbreaking memoir in miniature, giving deep insights into cultural traditions.
Echo Morgan – cover artist – says this:
I was sent away at the age of four after my parents’ divorce to board at a much-hated, strict communist kindergarten. There I was shaped into a ‘xiao hong hua’, a little red flower, obedient and pliant. This early communist education and China’s economic boom is deeply embodied in my roots. They still strongly control my thoughts and behaviour.
Other highlights include:
– Kyungah Ham’s Korean Mona Lisas
– Deborah Kelly’s crowd-sourced feminist wisdom as print-at-home stickers and posters
– Heman Chong’s list of 198 forms of non-violent action
– Chim Pom’s oversized jigsaw puzzle, Find the C*&R!!!, in response to Japan becoming increasingly strict about nudity even though Asia’s largest red-light district, Kabukicho, is in Shinjuku, Tokyo
– The Mulka Project’s mission to sustain and protect Yolngu cultural knowledge in north-east Arnhem Land under the leadership of community elders.
52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS champions small acts of disobedience undertaken live and online by 52 artists from 31 countries across Asia, addressing important concerns locally and globally.
From historical revisionism in the Philippines to micro-celebrities in Bangladesh, military abuse in Myanmar to rising sea levels in Indonesia, visibility for LGBTQI+ people of colour to contemporary Indigeneity, the artists tackle critical issues with determination, innovation and humour. Each week, the work of a different artist is presented in a unique context, spanning a year of new artistic practice across the region.
Exploring the role of activism and protest throughout, the focus is on art-as-action that has the power to raise awareness and invoke change. With striking images and bold, graphic design, 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS is an encyclopaedia of creative responses to political and social issues facing contemporary Asia.
Following her intense performance of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (as Echo Morgan) at the Peace Is Power exhibition in Leipzig (April 2019), the amazing artist Xie Rong performed another of Ono’s works at the museum’s retrospective of Yoko’s career. Although Yoko’s Painting Until It Becomes Marble is an actual painting rather than a conceptual one, Rong performed a live interpretation of Yoko’s work. Immersing herself in paint and becoming a part of the actual work is an integral aspect of Xie Rong’s art. She applied her own method to Yoko’s static painting, and the result was stunning.
Yoko’s original work is a black and white ink drawing which is an accordion style fold-out. It was first shown during her first solo art exhibition Paintings and Drawings by Yoko Ono, at Fluxus founder George Maciunas’ AG Gallery in New York City. Painting Until It Becomes Marble came with Yoko’s instruction that visitors were to “cut their favorite parts until the whole thing is gone”. It was also shown at MoMA in 2015 as part of Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971.
Xie Rong’s live interpretation of Yoko’s painting was stunning. Yoko’s original painting actually has some ‘movement’ in its accordion folded shape. Rong took it to a new level, breathing new life into the piece. Reverently and ceremoniously, the artist stood quietly in the huge empty space with extremely high floor-to-ceiling windows emitting a background of pure light. Dressed all in white, Xie Rong stood with two bowls at her feet, one filled with Chinese black ink and the other with pure blue pigment powder. The artist combed the ink through her long black hair, saturating it and began to paint on a very large canvas on the floor.
Rong’s barefooted dance began – at first light and graceful like a ballerina, then more intensely, furiously jumping as her drenched hair splattered paint in all directions and on herself. ‘Jack the Dripper’ (Jackson Pollack) has fierce competition! The chaotic calligraphy continued with her head to the floor, making brush strokes. Kneeling with her head down on the canvas, submitting to the work in reverence, she made thicker strokes and swirls. Covered in ink, her white clothing and skin took on the characteristics of the actual artwork.
“An amazing aspect of the performance was the sound! This heavenly space is where they displayed Yoko’s cricket cages. I sang this song and told the story about losing my mother in law two weeks ago. And I invited audiences to rise the painting with me! But the paper dropped and become a cloud!”
Echo Morgan is the English name of Xie Rong, a Chengdu-born, London-based, multi-disciplinary artist whose work is underpinned by a dark family story. She works with stereotypes of ‘Chineseness’ and femininity in order to subvert them. Morgan has written texts on her skin using red lipstick, black Chinese ink, white ‘ink’ made from jasmine tea, and her own breast milk after giving birth to her second child. She has played with tropes of Chinoiserie, painting her naked body to resemble blue and white porcelain, and then inviting the audience to violently wash the patterns away by hurling water-filled balloons at her. Her work mines her own experiences of childhood, family, marriage and motherhood – and those of her female ancestors. She is a story-teller.
Juxtaposing English narration with Chinese traditional songs, Morgan plays with her complex hybrid identity and her difficult childhood. She explores the territory of translation: between two languages, between gesture and stillness, between her Chinese past and English present, between performance and image.
Galerie Huitis currently exhibiting the debut solo show in Hong Kong of the Chinese multi-disciplinary artistÂ Xie Rong, otherwise known asÂ Echo Morgan. Rong was born in the southwest province of ChengDu, China in 1983 and has lived and worked in London since the age of nineteen. Within her work, Rong oscillates between the role ofÂ performer, filmmaker, director and artistic narrator, operating across the intersection of a variety of mediums including painting,Â performance, film, prints, publications, short stories andÂ audio works. The current exhibition, entitledÂ å®¶Home, consists of an extension of the core thematic and aesthetic preoccupations Rong has explored in her previous work, predominantly the use of her personal prismatic and textured family experience as a reflection ofÂ the political, ideological and philosophical complexities and transformations of Chinese society…
A Broader Reflection of the Female Working Class Experience
The second dominating project within the exhibition is Rong’s sequel to I am a Brush, from which the exhibition takes it’s name – Home. The piece is comprised of an original performance, a video work and the parchment retaining the traces of Rong’s performative presence. Homeis reminiscent of Rong’s previous performance pieces including Be the Inside of the Vase (2012) and Little Red Flower (2012). The correlation can be seen within two avenues. Firstly the use of the narration of her own troubled childhood and relationship with her parents (particularly her father) and by extension the society within which she was raised. Secondly, the process of transforming her body into symbols, be it the Chinese national flag, blue and white porcelain, Chinese landscape painting or in the case of Home a more monochromatic reflection of the contradictions between her cultural identity. In this sense, in Home, Rong projects a more overt reflection of her cultural juxtapositions and her attempts to reconcile her socialized political and gender conforming upbringing with her intellectual and political confliction through her international exposure. However, arguably this is a somewhat superficial reading as, in my opinion, „Home“ projects a broader reflection of the female working class experience of both east and west. In this respect, despite in the obvious cultural nuances, which are not to be diminished of critical importance, in actual fact the core narrative characteristics and anecdotes are largely a global tale of subjugation and a struggle for the psychologically, physically and financially oppressed to overcome.
Ultimately, Rong’s debut Hong Kong exhibition depicts a strong foundational voice and aesthetic. Although there are notable influences from prior body art practice and both Eastern and Western cultural and artistic iconography – a large degree of indebtedness to Yoko Ono, Yves Klein and Carolee Schneemann, for example – Rong’s appropriation and assimilation of both cultural narratives is what makes her work particularly interesting from a critical perspective but also as an illustration of the interconnected and mutating cultural psyche’s of an internationalist ‘millennial’ practitioner….